Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: Don't Dianafy 9/11
Posted on 08/30/2002 8:35:04 AM PDT by Pokey78
We are in the season of anniversaries - Elvis, Diana, the World Trade Center. August 16th 1977, August 31st 1997, September 11th 2001.
If the comparison is trivial and demeaning, don't blame me. Five years ago, my mistake was to compare Diana to Elvis - or Marilyn, that other tragic blonde icon whose candle-in-the-windiness was transferred to the late Princess and promptly became the world's best-selling single ever, dethroning Bing's White Christmas. I thought her lustre had the staying power of the other big-time celebrity demises. I was wrong.
But grant me at least a sense of proportion: The throngs howling on the streets around Kensington and Buckingham Palaces insisted we were on the brink of something far bigger, that the Princess of Wales' death had, to coin a phrase, "changed the world" - or at any rate that section of it under the rule of the House of Windsor. London was in the grip of a psychosis that week, a weird hybrid of American victim culture and English yob culture, with mobs outside Buckingham Palace - the "Ice Palace" - demanding that the Queen come out and feel their pain or they'd come in and give her some pain of her own to feel.
Her Majesty rode out the storm, as she has ridden out others. Five years on, Diana is a faded presence. Her groupies accuse the Royal Family of a sinister "establishment" plot to airbrush her out of the official record. Maybe they're right. But that's not the problem. The cruel reality is that "the people's princess" has been shrugged off by the people. Hers is a shriveled dwindling cult.
A-list chums like Sir Elton and Tom Cruise long ago checked out. Four years ago, official commemorations at the Spencer family estate at Althorp were already reduced to the likes of TV beach hunk David Hasselhoff, who sang his song A Brand New Angel - written for a deceased Baywatch character but, like Candle In The Wind, apparently of universal application. It began to rain, but he and the crowd prayed to the Princess for her to stop the downpour. "And she did," he said. "It was the most amazing thing." I subsequently prayed to her to turn her official Diana-trademark margarine from its golden hue to plain ivory so that we in Quebec would be able to buy it, but, alas, my prayers went unanswered. And now Diana margarine has been withdrawn from the market.
So her incandescent celebrity has guttered and died. But what's endured is a kind of ongoing karaoke Diana cult, with new and ever more transient personages briefly shunted into the limelight for the usual routine of teary candlelight vigils and mounds of teddy bears. In England this month, two girls were abducted. Eventually, their bodies were found. It is an appalling, grotesque, despicable crime and their parents' grief must be truly inconsolable. But, for the rest of the nation, "this vile crime," as the doctor and columnist Theodore Dalrymple wrote, "has been turned into something of an entertainment." As the media descend, so do the clichÈs, and the stock characters: a typically dysfunctional English village is converted into a "tightly-knit community"; with the girls still missing, the usually empty church is suddenly filled, with vicar, family and neighbours who never knew the victims all playing their roles. The length and breadth of the realm there are public displays of "mourning," though, as Dalrymple says, there must be something "tinny or ersatz in the outpouring of grief." How can there not be? Regret and quiet sorrow is one thing. But, when people weep, ululate, beat their breasts and surrender to wild Dianysian emotional feasting on the bier of someone unknown to them, they debase the very meaning of feeling.
These English spasms of masturbatory mawkishness are useful, because, in their crudely menacing way, they make explicit the coercive element in mass sentimentality. On this side of the Atlantic, the U.S. media have been looking for a Di phenomenon for some time, and did their best to fake one when John F. Kennedy Jr. died: If Diana was "the people's princess," then he was the people's socialite, the people's obscure magazine publisher, whatever. In fairness to those baying Brit morons, they did at least bother showing up. By contrast, the so-called floral tributes outside JFK's apartment were only ever shown in close-up, because the truth is that not only did they not begin to match the fields of tributes in Kensington Gardens, there was barely any more of a memorial than the roadside crosses and bouquets you see on the edge of a state highway when some anonymous kid gets hit by a drunk.
Which brings us to September 11th. In those first moments, no one quite knew what was happening, and so the events themselves set the tone. One plane hit, then another, then the Pentagon was smoking, the White House was evacuated, the towers crumbled, a plane crashed in Pennsylvania, there were other flights missing, there were bomb scares ... For a few hours that Tuesday it felt like the Third World War, and so commentators fell into war mode. And by the time the networks had shuttled Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and the other glamorous pain-feelers to the scene it was too late to revert to the banality of "healing" and "closure" and all the other guff of a soft-focus grief wallow. It's very, very rare for the media to be caught so off-guard by an event that they lose control of their ability to determine its meaning. Within minutes of JFK Jr's plane going down, for example, you know Dan Rather was dusting off his Camelot lyrics and the producers were ordering up their "America's Son" and "America's Prince" graphics.
But a year has gone by. And there seems to be an effort to do on the anniversary what they were unable to accomplish on the day: to make September 11th 2002 an occasion for "coping." George Jonas and I have written on this page about the American teachers' union's plans for the day as an occasion for therapy, complete with "healing tools, routines and rituals" and a "circle of feelings" designed to help students "feel better" and "comfort each other" by having their "feelings" about September 11th "validated" in a "non-judgmental" way.
If you think America's largest teachers' union is just some minor fringe group of no consequence, then what are we to make of the ceremonies at Ground Zero itself? New York's woeful mediocrity of a mayor, Mike Bloomberg, has decreed there are to be no speeches: Instead, Governor Pataki will recite the Gettysburg Address, just as the third-graders do on small-town New England commons on Memorial Day. The Gettysburg Address is a fine address, but it's nothing to do with September 11th. It's as if at Gettysburg Lincoln had been told, "Well, this speech looks a little controversial. Couldn't you just stand up and recite the Declaration of Independence?" The nullity of Bloomberg's planned ceremony is an acknowledgment, even in the most sorely wounded city in America, that one year on there is no agreement on what Sept. 11 means. To some, it calls forth righteous anger and bestselling kick-ass country songs. To others, far more influential in the culture, it demands "healing circles."
Look, I'm sorry if some school kids aren't feeling chipper. Tough. But 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of their children, parents, siblings and friends. Those of us who don't fall into those categories are not bereaved and, by pretending to be, we diminish the real pain of those who really feel it. That's not to say that, like many, I wasn't struck by this or that name that drifted up out of the great roll-call of the dead. Newsweek's Anna Quindlen "fastened on," as she put it, one family on the flight manifest:
Peter Hanson, Massachusetts
Susan Hanson, Massachusetts
Christine Hanson, 2 Massachusetts
As Miss Quindlen described them, "the father, the mother, the two-year old girl off on an adventure, sitting safe between them, taking wing." Christine Hanson will never be three, and I feel sad about that. But I did not know her, love her, cherish her; I do not feel her loss, her absence in my life. I have no reason to hold hands in a "healing circle" for her. All I can do for Christine Hanson is insist that the terrorist movement which killed her is hunted down and prevented from deliberately targeting any more two-year olds. We honour Christine Hanson's memory by righting the great wrong done to her, not by ersatz grief-mongering.
Elvis, Diana, September 11th. I was wrong to compare Diana with Elvis. Don't let them Dianafy September 11th.
There's the message folks.
Very true. But this sentiment is about as popular as breaking wind in a stalled elevator.
This is modern America. Expressions of bereavement are now as lightly donned as any other fashionable item, but held in place by the firm glue of riteous indignation. To suggest one remove it is to invite the wrath we pretend we're saving for the terrorists.
I plan to stay home this year. Whether I watch TV will depend upon the coverage.
When I think about the fact that these pigs murdered this family and their supporters danced in the street to celebrate it, I don't need Dan Rather to tell me how to feel.
Every time some arab muslim gets his ugly mug in front of a camera and marginalizes the slaughter of innocents for his bloodthirsty religion, I know exactly how to regard the vermin.
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